Snail Fever, Summer Group Show at The Third Line | June 22 - July 28, 2011
The summer show at The Third Line brings together a specially curated exhibition by Sara Mameni touching on the music, sounds and revolution of the past. The focus is on this region broadly known as the Middle East and is explored by artists Abbas Akhavan, Fatima Al Qadiri and Khalid al Gharaballi, Ala Ebtekar, Haris Epaminonda, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Rayyane Tabet, Slavs and Tatars, and Newsha Tavakolian through photography, video, installation and painting. The death of the legendary Egyptian singer ‘Abd el-Halim Hafez in 1977 has symbolically marked the end of the “Golden Age” of Arabic music. Going back to the early 1940s, this era sounded through the voices of classical singers like Umm Kulthum, ‘Abd el-Wahab, Farid al-Atrash and Fairouz. Their music accompanied political changes across the Middle East and is the sound which reconfigured identities, nation-states and fights for freedom. It is a period that has been glorified, often nostalgically, for bringing together people across the region. ‘Abd el-Halim died of Bilharzia, a snail born disease he caught in
his childhood while playing in the Nile. The bacteria is often referred to as “Snail Fever” – after which the exhibition takes its name.
The end of the “Golden Age” of Arabic music, however, did not end the fever. With musicians such as Ahmad Adaweya and Hamid el-Shaeri, a more raw musical ensemble referred to as ‘Arabpop’ entered the airwaves bringing along belly dancers, finger cymbals and electronic drum beats. Focused on such features of the urban
experience as traffic, overpopulated roads and the malady of daily life, ‘Arabpop’ was sold in Cairo's back streets and was dubbed sha'abi music (music of the ghetto).
Despite the lack of support from the authorities, ‘Arabpop’ spread like a virus and gripped the population in its fervor. It created a new soundscape in the region radiating from the Nile, that matched the disco fever that unfurled across North America at around the same time.
Snail Fever is about music, specifically the kind that goes viral. The artists in the show think about music epidemically. They think about music as absences and disembodiments. They replace musicians with the curved neck of the gramophone or the magnetic cones of a boombox. They confront the viewer with the fictionality of icons, projecting their inadequateness into the work. Music in this exhibition is at times cancerous, multiplying abnormally to bind unlikely bodies aurally across artificial boundaries. At other times it is highly decadent, forcing people to guard against its contagious hedonism.
In this exhibition music is made visual, scaled into words and images, haunted by the specter of the
voice. These artists present the body of musicians in their works; invoking musicians who never die or
those who become alive only through death.
Tarané Ali Khan
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